Book excerpt: Men of Sunday

EXCERPT - "Men of Sunday: How Faith Guides the Players, Coaches, and Wives of the NFL" by Curtis Eichelberger

Pregame Prayers

Some of the sport’s biggest stars are also some of its most faithful. Players like Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, Tennessee Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, and Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, to name just a few. Each player prepares for the game in his own way.

In San Diego, as Mitchell’s prayer concludes, Chargers offensive tackle Jeromey Clary keeps his head bowed and prays, “Allow me to glorify You in all that You’ve done. Protect me and allow me to play with strength and confidence, yet stay humble. The glory is Yours.”

In St. Louis, Rams quarterback Sam Bradford has prepared spiritually for games dating back to his college years at the University of Oklahoma by reading the story of David and Goliath about a young boy who slays a battle-tested warrior with a slingshot. In 1 Samuel 17:45–46, David declares, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head.”

In Tennessee, Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck gathers with the team’s other passers in the stadium tunnel minutes before they take the field for what they call the Quarterbacks Prayer.

It started when he played in Seattle alongside fellow Christians Trent Dilfer and quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn. The prayer isn’t scripted, Hasselbeck says, but it goes something like this:

God, there are so many people counting on us today: our teammates, our coaches, our families, the people in the stands. I pray that we wouldn’t look for their approval. I pray that we look for Your approval; that we play for an audience of one today. And knowing that we’ve worked hard and prepared, I pray that You’d slow things down and give us a peace that can only come from You, and take that pressure and burden off us so we can go out and play knowing that at the end of the day, win, lose, or draw, You did that. We pray that we make the most of our God-given abilities. God, I need Your help. Please walk with me today. In Your name. Amen.

Prayer isn’t the domain of offensive players. Some of the nastiest hitters in the NFL stop to worship God before taking the field.

In East Rutherford, New Jersey, New York Giants Pro Bowl defensive end Justin Tuck takes a knee at the end of the bench before kickoff to ask God to protect him from injury.

In Washington, safety Oshiomogho Atogwe reads passages from the Twenty-third Psalm and prays: “God, I thank You for allowing me the week of preparation. Let me be confident in what I’m doing. Let me lead my teammates and encourage them. But more than that, let me glorify You with the way I play, with my attitude, with my energy, and let me give You my all.”

Much is at risk, and the players know it. For some, it’s about keeping their place on the team. For others, it’s about accomplishing some personal or team goal, maintaining their income, making their families proud, or using their skills to glorify God. No matter their motivation, one thing is certain: time is running out. The average NFL career lasts 3.5 years, according to the NFL union, and if the players are going to make it in this game, they’ll have to do something big in the next few moments.

Excerpted from "Men of Sunday: How Faith Guides the Players, Coaches, and Wives of the NFL" by Curtis Eichelberger. Thomas Nelson ©2012. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson, Inc. www.thomasnelson.com.